The flexibility, initiative and expertise of voluntary and community sector (VCS) groups was key to the effectiveness of Lewisham’s Covid-19 emergency response, a Goldsmiths, University of London report concludes.
Dr Kalbir Shukra was commissioned by Lewisham Council and the charity Lewisham Local to report on the Lewisham Covid-19 Emergency Response Hub (‘the Response Hub’), which was operational from March to August 2020.
The Response Hub aimed to co-ordinate and deliver information, food and a befriending service during the national lockdown to isolated, vulnerable people with the help of partner organisations and an army of newly recruited volunteers.
Research for the report Learning from the Lewisham Covid-19 Response Hub began in September 2020 when the crisis measures put in place in March 2020 were transitioning into their next phase.
Online interviews were used to gather different perspectives and reflective accounts across Response Hub partner organisations, with further stories, activities and issues gathered from an online conference of more than 100 people.
The report explains how Lewisham Council and some of its funded voluntary sector organisations changed their operations to work together in delivering an emergency response in the borough, and details some of what was achieved.
The strength of pre-existing relationships between a group of Council-funded voluntary sector organisations and the food bank, combined with strong leadership, initiative, and expertise demonstrated by all lead partners were behind the success of the borough’s Covid-19 emergency response, Dr Shukra found.
The report highlights how important it was for residents in need to be able to have a single point of contact for the Response Hub’s services through a new phone line and website. A one-entry system enabled calls to be triaged and duplication by multiple organisations providing services was minimised.
The Response Hub succeeded in getting food parcels out quickly and helped people in desperate circumstances, who were either shielding or pushed into food poverty by job losses. The Response Hub also stepped in to provide the fresh produce and culturally relevant or medically suitable products lacking in government provision.
Particularly impressive was the recruitment and co-ordination of the volunteers and active citizens who carried out logistical operations such as food distribution, with some 2,500 people signing up as Hub volunteers and more spontaneous sign ups of volunteers across individual partner organisations.
[Lewisham food bank volunteers]
Dr Shukra’s report provides a list of recommendations for volunteering and partnerships in the borough, and concludes: “The government’s furlough scheme demonstrated the potential that is unleashed when people have an adequate income along with time to spare. Lewisham saw how people will volunteer to contribute skills and spare time if they are not trying to eke out a living on low pay or inadequate benefits.”
It calls for a connected three-pronged approach for Lewisham’s recovery, based in collaborative partnerships:
- Relieving residents’ immediate problems through a mix of casework, advocacy and support infrastructure
- Creation and investment in local jobs, businesses, cooperatives, affordable housing, public health and connecting communities, with partnerships having a key role in facilitation
- Democratic renewal and community engagement by addressing the root causes of social and economic inequality, promoting a shared sense of agency and solidarity
Dr Shukra said: “Investment in VCS leadership benefitted Lewisham as a whole and in the future, such opportunities could be extended to people from social groups that were not represented in the partnership.
“Enabling organisations from within newer communities to co-design and deliver future work and increasing the representation and engagement of the borough’s established BAME communities and sizeable youth population are among the areas that need to be addressed in future partnerships. Collaborations could draw on the expertise of diverse faith organisations, LGBTQ+ and Disability groups, being mindful of intersectional experiences and other groups with protected characteristics.”
Download Learning from the Lewisham Covid-19 Response Hub from the Lewisham Local website